When reading various posts and articles from various directions–some celebrating the promised end of public libraries, most bemoaning the decline of public libraries–I keep running into comments about so many public library closures.
Which got me to wondering: How many public libraries have actually closed permanently in the last year or decade?
Let’s be more specific: How many library agencies, defined as libraries that report statistics to their state library and/or IMLS, have shut down with no expectation of reopening, or have been closed two or more years?
One percent of the 9,000-odd library agencies in the US? Five percent? Half of one percent?
I can’t find good info at ALA. In fact, when I go looking for library closures, I see some surprising ambiguities. For example, you have the wifty claim that 15 states reported closure of “fewer than two” library outlets last year. Problematic on two counts: In what world is “fewer than two” anything other than one (unless it’s zero)–and what’s an outlet?
Going back a little, I see ALA press releases on the subject of the closure of the library in Colton, California in November 2009. Which is a tragedy–except that the Colton library was reopened within a year.
I didn’t find good info at IMLS either, although maybe I didn’t know where to look.
I’m certainly not trying to minimize budgetary problems. I know lots of branches have been shut down or had hours reduced; I also know that some libraries quite appropriately close some branches for the sake of the health of the library system as a whole.
(Where I live, two small branches are only open a couple of days a week, if that–but the result is that the main library, in a relatively compact city, has robust seven-day-a-week operating hours. Would we be better off if all three locations had reduced hours or no book budgets? Not in my opinion–but then, I’m closest to the main anyway. And I’m aware that one of the two branches is in a part of town where huge construction plans didn’t work out very well…)
I think the question deserves an honest answer because the assumption that libraries are closing like crazy hurts libraries–it makes it easier for those who don’t like public libraries to suggest that they’re anachronisms in any case.
Maybe there should even be two more refinements:
- How many public library agencies have closed in towns/cities that are still themselves viable communities? (If a town’s lost its schools, its businesses, its post office because nobody really lives there any more, the library’s likely to go as well…)
- How many public library agencies have opened in the last year or decade? Do library closures exceed new library openings?
If someone can point me to an authoritative and reliable source, I’d be pleased.